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Stories From A Soldier
Veterans Are Our Heros
Entering the doors of the Veterans Hospital required a serious sense of solemnity just knowing the halls were laced with heroism and sacrifice. Crossing this threshold brought a curiosity, a desire to learn, to learn about the veterans who provided our protection. How could I have lived a life of freedom so unaware of its costs? Almost immediately I knew my life would change forever as I came to know the stories of their past's.
I had no idea the experiences that awaited me behind those doors. The hospital system was unlike the private sector facilities I had worked in prior. In fact before working in the Veterans Hospital, I never would have used the term “private sector.” I learned quickly, there was a complete language that went with this new territory, a language that would draw me into their world and to learning more, but mostly, a craving to hearing the Stories From A Soldier.
Veterans Describe Their Reality
The staff working for these men and woman had a fiery passion for the care they provided. They embodied a respect I had not fully come to comprehend in my early days as a therapist among our heroes. I am so very blessed to share a snippet of my time there and a few of the stories that changed me forever.
I sat in the great room of the nursing home/hospice section of the hospital in front of a group of some fifteen or so veterans of different wars. I suppose you could say, I was biding my time on this unit, awaiting the spinal cord unit to complete its construction. I was a young therapist ready to work with and learn the new technological advancements being used to get young veterans back to living.
For a short time, I was in the nursing home section awaiting the new opening of the spinal cord unit. I was placed with these very old almost feeble frail men, or so I thought. At first, they brought to mind that desire to hold them and nurture them as I would a young child. Little did I know the impact of their stories, and how honored I would be as I was allowed into their world of difficult memories. How quickly I remembered I was forever the child in their eye's and these amazing men and women had sacrificed their youth for my freedom.
This was where I was called to work I was so ready, but first I needed to familiarize myself with the system, charting, and the workings of the hospital. The unit in which I was to be placed was not yet open. My schedule was a bit more open as I awaited the construction completion of the new unit. I wasn't sure what to do with this older group I was used to a more active therapist roll doing more sports and the like with a younger more energetic group. And while this group of seniors was less active or motivated they deserved my respect and a choice to do as they wished. They found out I played guitar and so, there I sat with a guitar in hand, I played for those men, survivors, and servants of past wars, I played a few patriotic and even somber tunes either requested or ones I thought might be enjoyable. One day as I finished one of the last tunes, I looked up to move my capo on the guitar to change the key, hoping it would invite them to sing along. It was then that my eyes met his.
He must have been a patient for some time as he was notably weathered slumping down in his wheelchair. I noticed a single tear falling gently down his dark brown cheek. It was moving past his whiskers and wrinkles at a snail’s pace, hardly noticeable to most. He recognized I saw it and quickly straightened up as best he could and wiped it away in his discreet manner. My heart ached for him and yet I did not know the why? I did not know the story, not yet anyway. After I finished the nurses aides started to come to retrieve them to go back to their rooms. I quietly approached him, he had rolled over to a window and was gazing out into a courtyard and he was obviously in deep thought. I knelt down by him and attempted to start my inquiry. “Hello sir,” I said, I then went on to ask, “I am so sorry, did I upset you this afternoon during the group time, singing the songs I chose?” He looked into my eyes and cupped my chin in his hand and said, “oh no dear one, you touched my heart. Your beautiful rendition just took me back to the war sweetheart.” I didn’t want to pry, but, his kind and loving demeanor had me clinched at the heart. It was like I too was taken back in time and I was sitting with my own grandfather as he was sharing a story while bouncing me on his knee. Even though this man's skin was much darker than my fair Irish freckled face, at that moment I felt like his granddaughter.
“May I ask, what you were thinking, sir?” He said, “well child, I was in the second World War." He went on, “This was a war before you were even a thought, little one.” This was so cute as I was young, but married and had a baby girl of my own, yet he saw me as an innocent child. He shared, “ I was a young man once like you, I was proud to fight for my country in another part of this God-given the world. It was in a foxhole honey, that I was, with my buddies. We was fightin the Germans. I was turned round loading up my weapon when it came like a firebomb. We was HIT! After the smoke cleared I sees my buddies strewn around me, it was bad baby. There was blood everywhere and my buddy's arm rested at my feet.” The tears now welled in both of our eyes as he continued, “ I scurried about tryin’ my best, but they was all dead.” He looked at me as if to say I am sorry to share such horror with you, but the compassion in his eyes was phenomenal as he retrieved this distant memory with such clarity and definition. He stopped, took a breath and said, “ I was the only one spared child, my Lord spared me that day, but ya see, a big part a me died there – in that hole.” He seemed to shake it off just a bit and said, “ my life has been blessed tenfold, with a beautiful family and children and grandchildren, and I am grateful to my Lord. It’s just I loved those men, they were my brothers and I guess I feel the guilt even today. I suppose I went on livin' in honor of them boys. They was and will always be my friends and a - part - a - me.”
He looked in my eyes, as I was now shedding crocodile tears to no avail, He again touched my cheek and tried his best to wipe my tears with his sweet shaking hand. “Don’t get me wrong,” he said, “ I love this country and I would do it all again, I just never understood, why me? Why was I spared?” As I hugged him tight and was about to return him to his room, then I said, “ I know why." What a beautiful man, what a sacrifice and still he honors His Lord and Savior, Still he is proud of his service to his country. He is my hero and yours and his story matters, then and now and for eternity. He was spared by His savior, he had a light that was to shine for many years, and he was so humble to shine it brightly for me that day.
The stories that unfolded as I worked with the service men and women changed me forever. The respect and appreciation remained a constant for me always. There was a Captain who shared with me why his fingers had come to be so crooked, He would share that when he was in a prison camp they took a hammer to his knuckles. One by one they were crushed as a means of torture.
Another story came from a medic who struggled with addictions post the Vietnam War, as he was shot in the spine retrieving a fellow warrior from the fields. He now lives his own life in a wheelchair as a paraplegic. This particular soldier lost himself for some time and yet was able to break free and learn to embrace his inner strength, finally knowing he didn't leave his soul in that war-torn country. He went on to participate in sports of all kinds and to teach martial arts and self-defense to others with physical disabilities and those without.
There was the golden knight named Dana Bowman, who lost his limbs and his partner and a good buddy in a tragic accident on a jump. This very same man within a year of this horrific accident would be soaring down the mountains of Colorado skiing on a brand new pair of prosthetic devices, the same year of his great loss. Today he is a motivational speaker and a serviceman to the end. He has gone on to help many in the wake of his storm. Dana Bowman is one of my heroes, he is your hero. I was blessed to be on that mountain and ski next to him as he decided to continue for those who lost their lives or would meet their challenges in the future. (I continue to have much love and respect Dana)
Why they served, why we serve
I like you have struggles in this life today, some would even call me brave at times as I battle some life changing events. How would I answer this claim, "I'm not brave not in comparison to these men and women who died for our country or sacrificed so much, and when I think of the cross, my Savior took for me, suffering for my sin, well, I am in awe." When asked, “How do you do it?” As I have been asked this during my own battle. I would say. "I do it because I can, because I must, I do it because of men and women who taught me how to fight with joy and confidence in living life in service to our Lord. I was called to help them at their lowest points and their many, many stories changed my life. I do it because they taught me how to live! I do it because Jesus died for me and you and them."
I don’t always live as well as they did, or nearly as brave, but no one can ever take a soldier’s story's from their memory and no one can take their faith unless they give it away. Finally, no one can take his or her ability to serve no matter what. I feel a bit like a soldier at times, We all have a story to tell as we remain in a battle, a spiritual battle. The stories from those veterans became mine and mine theirs. We are One Nation Under God and I am blessed, to have learned from those who served in the past and continually blessed to serve with many in the present. The war rages on each and every day, we can do much to serve as we live for Christ and serve others in our battles here on earth. We will lose some battles, but we will win the war and be reunited in heaven. The young, the old, the service men and woman, and all the soldiers. Everyone has a story to tell, make yours count!
God Bless America and God Bless All Of You This Day ~
© 2013 The Stages Of ME